First Patti Smith, now Fran Lebowitz—have any of our great women of a certain age not declared New York dead?
The author is out and about promoting her new HBO special Public Speaking. She spoke candidly with The Observer just before Thanksgiving, discussing how AIDS ravaged the New York arts scene, among other things. Now Lebowitz is blaming the failures of feminism for the suburbanization of New York in an interview in the latest issue of Bust [subscription required].
What are your thoughts on feminism today?
Well, now they’ve done it, and I believe that women have gotten pretty much as far as they’re going to get. Which is better, but not great. I mean, it’s immensely better. There’s no comparison. It’s against the law to say, “This job is just for boys.” But that doesn’t mean there aren’t all kinds of jobs you can’t have [as a woman]. And there are all kinds of things you won’t get. It’s just much more subtle now. And that’s progress.
But there are still girls who make it bad for girls. Young girls are always showing me their diamond engagement rings. “Look, Fran!” It’s so old-fashioned. I think that I am too old to feel that people who are kids remind me of my parents. Someone my age is supposed to be angered by kids. You’re supposed to say, “These crazy kids—what will they think of next?” You’re not supposed to say, “These kids are so boring. These kids are so regressive.” It’s like the 1950s. The 1950s weren’t just about great suits. That time was really suffocating.
So it seems to me that people, especially women, especially women who have all these choices, are now looking for things that aren’t oppressive exactly but are pretty suffocating. What used to be called middle-class respectability looked like it was going to disappear, but it didn’t. It’s returned. It just returned in a different costume. If you do it in a loft instead of a split-level in the suburbs, it’s still the same. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be allowed to do it; I’m saying it’s suburban. This is why New York today seems suburban to me—all kids and babies in strollers. It’s 1950s domestic life. The sidewalks are the same size, but now you have twins and dogs.
More children means more New Yorkers.
Are you under the impression that we need more New Yorkers? Does this place seem too sparsely populated to you? And they won’t stay here. Every generation of parents thinks they can turn children into little versions of themselves. And only my generation seems to have done that. But I think it’s because my generation ate everything, so there’s nothing left, and the kids have to come home.
Actually it’s a fair point. Though we went a little farther back than the 1950s when we called them The New Victorians in 2007.